Marc Probst: Meaningful Use Stage 3 a mistake

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After serving six years on the federal government's Health IT Policy Committee, Intermountain Healthcare CIO Marc Probst's term ended in June. And while, he said, many smart and passionate people are working to improve the industry, lobbies are just as influential in terms of change.

"The concept and the power of special interests is alive and well, particularly when you're talking about a $35 billion program," Probst said, referring to the Meaningful Use incentive program. "The federal advisory committees tried to filter through that, but I'm not sure that was always accomplished."

In an interview with FierceHealthIT at the recent College of Healthcare Information Management Executives fall forum in Orlando, Probst expanded on his committee efforts. He also talked about Meaningful Use and Intermountain's role in the Department of Defense's electronic health record contract.

FierceHealthIT: You've been outspoken about the focus of Stage 2 of Meaningful Use; how do you feel about Stage 3?

Probst: I can just tell you I'm incredibly disappointed we even have a Stage 3. It's just a mistake. It's just prolonging the program. We should have claimed victory, frankly after Stage 1, but clearly after Stage 2, and stopped the program. There's no real additional benefit.

Do I like the open APIs strategy? Absolutely. I think it's a great idea. It shouldn't be driven by Meaningful Use.

What I said around Stage 2 was, it should only be about interoperability and standards. That's all it should have been about. I'll tell you the same thing for Stage 3. If we have to have it, that's all it should be about. We're not getting to the real root of the problem.

FHIT: Karen DeSalvo has spoken recently and frequently about the need for standards and how it should have been addressed earlier. Is that encouraging?

Probst: Yes, it's encouraging. I'm a huge proponent of Karen DeSalvo; I think she's excellent. She gets it, she really does. She inherited Meaningful Use and she acknowledged that we need these standards. She's struggled with how to implement them and I don't think she's in full agreement with me. I believe they need to be legislated and created as law and forced upon the industry; I think she goes with probably the more realistic view of politics and how it can happen. But this is a national safety issue.

It's costing us money; we're losing lives every year; and even from a defense perspective, our national security is at risk because of all the costs and challenges of healthcare. This is something the government needs to take seriously.

They need to legislate this, and they need to just get it done.

FHIT: Clearly Congress has taken an interest in all of this. Is there hope that such legislation will actually happen?

Probst: The nature of Washington is to politicize things. This isn't popular. It would be really difficult. You're basically going to choose the winners and the losers, and likely, everyone will be a loser when you come up with standards because no one is standard--none of the vendors.

You're talking about a massive infrastructure lift. Like the railroads, it could be expensive, logistically very, very difficult and it's going to slow things down for a number of years. But what happens afterwards, once you've done that, progress is just rampant.

There are people that get it. We spend a lot of time with people in D.C. and they get the issue; I just don't think anyone wants to be as extreme in their language as I am. Of course, I'm not a politician, so I can be more extreme.